Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland Poster


I try to go into most movies without any preconceived notions, simply waiting to be impressed. If anything, I was even a little excited for Tomorrowland, because if there’s one fictional sub-genre I can get behind, it’s sci-fi. Despite it appearing in the trailers as a massive Disney advertisement for its own theme park, I saw George Clooney looking grim and Hugh Laurie acting evil, so I though I might as well go in with a good attitude. What a quaint notion that seems now. Lesson learned, though: never have a good attitude about anything, if it can be helped.

As a product of the early 2000s myself, I’ve got a certain amount of nostalgia for director Brad Bird’s work. He directed The Iron Giant back in 1999, which pulled at my juvenile heartstrings even then, as well as The Incredibles in 2004 and Ratatouille in 2007. Though Bird technically made the transition from animation to live-action with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol in 2011, I can’t help but feel that something was lost along the way.

From a conceptual standpoint, the art design looks really sleek and cool and sci-fi, and in all honesty, the futuristic city of Tomorrowland seems pretty well realized. In practical terms, however, the CG quickly begins to look laughably fake. I don’t know if I’m just noticing it more frequently now, or if RealD 3D just makes everything look like shit, but I’m appalled at how many 3D films this year look visually repulsive. Seriously, sit too close to the screen and you can see the virtual stitching starting to come undone. It’s like the Star Wars prequels all over again. Maybe I’m being over critical and maybe the sensible, 2D version looks fine, but all I can say for certain is that we badly need to get over this 3D fad before we all contract haemolacria.

Before I get into the minutiae of what ardently destroyed the experience for me, I want to briefly mention the cast. George Clooney, to his credit, really does try the best he can with the pile of trash of a script that he’s insolently been asked to work with.

Likewise, it’s good fun to watch Hugh Laurie hamming it up as the bad guy, delivering the most tortured one-liners ever put to film and slap-fighting Clooney near the end. And even though I was initially down on Ellen Page wannabe Britt Robertson, I kind of warmed to her when I realized that she was trying to act in front of a featureless green screen for ninety-five percent of the movie. She might be forgiven, then, for seeming to over-react to a comical degree in nearly every situation, but one must bear in mind that there was actually nothing for her to react to. Maybe she should have been in charge instead of Bird, since apparently her imagination was way more exciting that whatever was happening on-screen.

And now we’re getting to it, I guess. I’ve danced around this issue long enough. The story. It was only during the credits that I discovered who was responsible for this train wreck: none other than Damon “Prometheus-ruiner” Lindelof. Well, that explains it! I thought. Lindelof’s putrid fingerprints are all over the script, from the insipid, directionless characters to the pedestrian, pseudo-philosophical “fate is what we make it” ending.

The first awful character we’re properly introduced to is Robertson’s Casey Newton: a precocious, tech-savvy young woman, completely without flaw and who, through optimistic energy alone, is able to alter the fabric of space-time. I wish I were making that up. Then we’ve got Clooney’s character, Frank Walker, who’s a bit more well-rounded, being a jaded cynic, basically resigned to the fact humanity is shafted—I found him the most relatable, incidentally. So what happens when you toss these two powder-keg personalities into the same situation? Nothing much at all, frankly, but that might have rather more to do with their dialogue sounding like it was written by someone who’s never interacted with another human being.

My real problem is twofold: 1) neither character is deep or complex enough for me to feel more than superficially invested in their struggles, and 2) neither character really has anything to do, specifically Clooney’s, until right at the very end. The story is your typical “sightseeing tour” affair, with the characters visiting exotic locations with nothing much to do once they get there. In fact, Casey Newton asks at one point, “am I supposed to be doing something?” An appropriate question, to be sure, but I would have extended it to every animal, vegetable, and mineral in the plot up until that point. Hilariously, there’s this ongoing subplot involving the two leads being hunted by kill-droids from an alternate dimension (which sounds way more interesting than it actually is), but it’s blatantly obvious that its entire purpose is to contrive a reason for the protagonists to move along to the next boring set-piece when the story is done cramming exposition down our throats at the current one.

And for a rollicking sci-fi fantasy adventure, there’s a hell of a lot of half-baked exposition that Lindelof insists on spoon-feeding us. The action is so choppy and stop/go/stop because he has to slam on the breaks to crowbar in even more expository bullshit. Show us, Lindelof, don’t just tell us. The indecisive tone doesn’t help the fractured pacing either, as scenes in which multiple people get atomized with no remorse are juxtaposed with scenes in which Hugh Laurie struts around uttering the aforementioned tortured one liners. Speaking of, let’s get around to my other major sticking point, the evil plan.

For the vast majority of the movie, the Earth is threatened with destruction in a wholly unspecific way, allegedly due to a big machine that George Clooney built while he was bumming around an alternate dimension. Neither Lindelof nor Clooney seem to know exactly what the big machine actually does, but the consensus seems to be that it can predict the future somehow. No one knows why the world is going to end though, so they’ve got to travel to the source to figure it out. Once there, Hugh Laurie reveals that he’s the one who’s seeding trans-dimensional bad-vibes to Earth, which is making everyone get really depressed or aggressive or something. But here’s the thing: Hugh Laurie outright admits that even if Earth gets destroyed, it won’t have any impact whatsoever on Tomorrowland. So my question is, why continue to do it even if you know it won’t make any difference to you and yours? Just for kicks? The whole thing is such a contrived, unintuitive mess from start to finish that it’s making my brain hurt just trying to remember it.

And at the very end of the movie, when George Clooney is giving a bit of an epilogue after the big machine gets destroyed, he says something to the effect of, “this is going to be a lot harder than destroying a big evil tower.” Okay, great. Thanks for drawing attention to how idiotic the plot was, Lindelof. But why don’t you change it and make it less idiotic instead of sitting there, grinning and pointing at the massive shit you just took? Lindelof’s absolute delirious contempt for his audience is nothing new, but this reaches a whole new level of awful.

So, to make a long story short, my hopes of a sci-fi fantasy epic were DOA, Damon Lindelof demonstrated what he thinks of the people who see his movies, Disney gets to masturbate over it’s own intellectual property for a while, and 3D is still terrible. See you, space cowboy…

Rating: 2 out of 5

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Netflix Movie of the Week #18: Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer

The most recent movie in a growing list of American films made by prominent South Korean directors, Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer is one of the most ambitious and challenging sci-fi thrillers in recent memory. The extremely brutal, often bizarre film follows the last group of humans on Earth, after a weather experiment to stop global warming freezes the planet. Aboard the perpetual motion train SNOWPIERCER, a group of oppressed, lower-class survivors led by Curtis (Chris Evans), hatch a plan to make their way to the front of the train to take control, and in doing so improve the quality of life for the passengers living under a makeshift military dictatorship in the rear. Curtis, aided by a series of cryptic messages, pushes his ragged crew through increasing resistance, all while discovering horrific truths about the society they live in aboard the train.

In a time when the science-fiction film market is catered to primarily by sequels and remakes of existing sci-fi properties, a film like Snowpiercer offers fans of the genre a breath of figurative fresh air. Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, the film combines original concept sci-fi with Bong Joon-Ho’s unique directorial sensibilities to create a bleak and extremely engaging film. Joon-Ho builds a sense of claustrophobia and dread in the narrow, fastidiously designed train, each car looking markedly different than the last and offering new challenges for the core group of characters.

While the film is in many ways an action movie, Bong Joon-Ho’s style shines through in the myriad moments of conflict and confrontation. Action sequences are often brutally violent and the hyper stylized, providing ample opportunity for Joon-Ho to show off his directorial chops, and remind us why he remains one of Korea’s premier filmmakers. The film is not particularity averse to the idea of killing-off characters, and despite the underlying glimmer of hope that the protagonists cling to, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that things will not end well by the time the story reaches its satisfying and unexpected climax.

If you are interested in something a little out of the ordinary for your next Netflix session, Snowpiercer might be the film for you. Though most of the news surrounding the film was due to its shockingly high VOD sales in comparison to a lackluster theatrical release, Snowpiercer  is ultimately a really good film, and presents a complex and thought provoking story within the framework of its slick, hard sci-fi presentation.

Rating: 4 out of 5

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Mockingjay Poster

I’ve never been a particularly huge fan of The Hunger Games series, but that being said, I’d wager that I went to see Mockingjay with a more objective mindset than I might have otherwise. I did read the first book and half of the second, but I never got around to reading the third; an associate of mine whom I sometimes pretend to respect once told me that, for whatever reason, there was a pretty drastic drop-off in quality between the second and third books. As the book-to-movie adaptation debate rages on, let’s see how THG:M-1 measures up in its own right.

Francis Lawrence reprises his directorial role from 2013’s Catching Fire, though he is joined by screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong—both newcomers to the series. Lawrence, just like the last time around, proves to be functional if uninteresting, and as is generally the case with this sort of thing, I place the blame for Mockingjay’s shortcomings squarely on the writers. I’ll delve deeper into the minutiae in a moment, but at present, suffice it to say that the film is one of the most childishly melodramatic and hollowly plaintive films that I’ve seen in a long while.

Even the acting left me a little disappointed, though admittedly there was little for the cast to do besides mope around and look sad. I’m aware that I’ve got a slightly unpopular opinion of Jennifer Lawrence, in that she’s a serviceable actress though vastly overrated, but her performance in Mockingjay was extremely “one-note,” if you follow me. Again, I’d say that’s more a fault of the writers that J-Law’s. Likewise, the vast majority of dialogue came off as extremely stilled and awkward, presumably in an ill-placed attempt at soaring emotional impact. To my mind, only Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of the washed-up District 12 victor Haymitch Abernathy, provided at least a tenuous grounding in reality, despite all the other character’s spouting overblown nonsense at one another.

Now, let me get back to the writing. From what I can tell, neither Craig not Strong have to many scripts to their credit, apart from Craig’s co-writer status on the 2010 film The Town. As far as the plot itself is concerned, I’m fairly indifferent; I get that it’s mainly a set up for the big finale in the upcoming part 2. It’s mostly the dialogue and delivery thereof that got to me.

You know it’s always a big sign when the actors are delivering lines like they know they’re being filmed, and by that, I mean I lost count of the number of times that characters stared stoically into the middle-distance and quoted overblown, cheesy, melodramatic lines, presumably intending to elicit an emotional response, every single one of which come off as hollow and token. Even Lawrence, who’s usually better than this (even by my own admission) isn’t immune from the ravages of un-ironically awful dialogue.

Some of my associates have posited that this is the best entry in the Hunger Games series to date, though to my mind, Mockingjay Part 1 belies just how immature and silly the series actually is. I actually favored the glorified death-match setup of the original Hunger Games as well as Catching Fire, as they tended to have an undertone of almost otherworldly, surreal bleakness—savagery and blood sport beneath a gilded veneer of garish flash and sparkle. Meanwhile in Mockingjay, it’s all melodrama, all the time.

Mockingjay Part 1 advances the rather sparse plot of the series, but that’s about all it does, frankly. Despite my general indifference to the series, my hopes aren’t particularly high for part two, but then again, I’ve been wrong before.

Rating: 3 out of 5